portland’s classical station prepares for major upgrade

Last week, I was fortunate to get a chance to take a guided tour of the still under-construction studios of Portland’s classical radio station, AllClassical 89.9. My tour guide was none other than CEO Jack Allen, and also along to check on progress were Vice President for Technology Larry Holtz, Operations Administrator Jordan Lewis, music director John Pitman, and on-air host Edmund Stone.

To call the transition that the station is about to undergo an upgrade is akin to calling trading up from an old 12″ black and white tube television to a 55″ high definition plasma display flat screen tv a mere upgrade. This new facility will, quite literally, catapult the station into the 21st century and prepare it for a long and vibrant future as the hub of Portland’s fine arts and culture community. Let’s take a look! (Note: click on any of the images to view them at full size)

Here’s a schematic of the new station – the current facility (which opened in 1992) is about 4400 square feet. The new one will be over 12,000 square feet, with 800 of that leased to Friends of Chamber Music. So there will be triple the amount of available space!

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Schematic of the new space.

The station will take up the entire second level of the Hampton Opera Center, located right on the Eastbank Esplanade at the foot of the new light rail/pedestrian bridge over the Willamette. Plans are for the move to take place in May 2014, with the first air date from the new facility taking place in time for the June fundraising drive.

The first space one encounters entering the space is the reception area, with its own sweeping view of the Willamette and the new pedestrian bridge:

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Reception lobby, with (L to R), Edmund Stone, John Pitman, and Jack Allen.

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Reception desk area, with view of the new light rail bridge.

To the right of the reception area will be the AllClassical cafe, where visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack while looking at the river views outside:

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Cafe view.

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View from master control.

A trip to the left leads one into the membership department, which includes the all important phone center for taking membership pledges during the fundraising drives (you ARE a member, right? I am, and proudly so!).  And right next to the membership phone room is the heart of the new facility, Master Control, which also features a sweeping view of the Willamette, and will sport a $17000 broadcast desk that will gimbal on its axis 360 degrees to allow on air hosts to look outside or over at the membership ‘bullpen’ as needs dictate.

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Master control, with (L to R) Jordan Lewis, Edmund Stone, and Jack Allen.

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john pittman and jack allen in the master control room

john pitman and jack allen in the master control room

Just beyond Master Control, as one turns 90 degrees around the core of the building, are three production suites, one large and two small, which will allow group interviews, either live or taped, for on air hosts and their guests. John Pitman was particularly excited about this, as both he and John Burk (Vice President of Programming) will have their own offices with their own production capabilities, leaving these three suites for the exclusive use of the on-air staff.  This will mean much easier scheduling of interviews and most likely eliminate the need to reserve space far in advance in order to avoid schedule conflicts. All of the production suites as well as master control are sound insulated with a special material called Mineral Sound Insulation (MFI), which absorbs a wide range of frequencies and enables simultaneous use of all of the production facilities at any time.

Past the production area comes what I, as a performer, am most excited about! There will be a dedicated space to live performances! Steinway is donating a new grand piano each year, and local and international musicians alike will be able to come to the studio and share their music with on-air and streaming audiences around the world, as well as in studio audience members. It’s a capability that the current facility used to have, but has since been cannibalized to make room for staff production quarters. The ability to have school children come in and tour the station, and hear live music from world-class performers, was one of the primary reasons that Jack Allen wanted to have a live performance facility in the new building. There will also be the ability to have outdoor performances next to the esplanade as weather conditions allow.

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Jordan Lewis, John Pitman, Jack Allen, Edmund Stone, and Larry Holtz stand in the new performance space (now full of sound insulation).

The space outside the performance suite will be open and easily reconfigured to allow for audience seating, receptions, and catering for events.

The far walls of this largest room in the station are given to the executive offices, all of which will be open plan with glass partitions. The entire station is going to be open to a tremendous amount of natural light, with glass interior walls being used as often as feasible, and which also will allow for a feeling of openness and free flowing space for the staff members to interact with more spontaneity that the current facility allows with its many closed in spaces.

Continuing counter-clockwise around the building’s core, we pass by the space that will be leased by Friends of Chamber Music for their offices, as well as the staff kitchen and the very Star Trek looking Terminal Operations Center, which will house the vast array of computers and electronics that are required to keep a modern radio station and internet streaming facility up and running – not to mention that Jordan Lewis finally gets his own office right across the hall in which to do his technical wizardry!

On the south side of the building comes the production bullpen area, where the on-air hosts are corralled when not actually on the air with their silver tongues and velvety voices. John Burk and John Pitman each have their offices in this area as well.

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Edmund Stone surveys the production offices ‘corral’.

Adjoining this space will be the new music library, which will finally be able to house all of the music collection in one dedicated space, with a capacity of around 34,000 CD’s. Music Director John Pitman is overjoyed at this development – he no longer will have to hunt for recordings in boxes next to his desk, or scattered down the hallways of the current building!

So, all in all, this new building for All Classical is a tremendous development, and will enable the station to continue to produce its own high quality, locally produced content for both the terrestrial listening area and the national and international streaming audiences. If you’re interested in contributing to the building campaign, you can find out more here, at the station’s On the Move page.

I’m tremendously excited about the many possibilities that the new facility will allow for hearing live performances, both in person and on-air, and I believe that after this move is completed, All Classical 89.9 may well be the happiest classical radio station on the planet! That bodes well for all of us lucky listeners!

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4 thoughts on “portland’s classical station prepares for major upgrade

  1. curtis heikkinen

    Thanks for posting this, Charles. I do have to comment and ask a few questions. A $17,000 broadcast desk, 12,000 square feet, offices and million dollar views for a listener-supported classical station? How much does the move cost? What will the monthly and yearly operating expenses be? How will this move affect the already high pledge drive goals that the station seems to struggle to meet? Will the sizeable station staff be increasing? If so, how much will that cost? Will there be more quasi-commercials to help pay to operate this luxurious facility?
    While there may be a need for an upgrade over the current facility, one must wonder whether this kind of opulent facility was necessary, given the current and future costs. In the meantime, I think I will continue to direct my support to the classical station in Eugene, with about three full time employees, and which has held the line on pledge drive goals, yet still produces a high quality product.

    Reply
    1. Charles Noble Post author

      It’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison, if I have my facts right. The Eugene station produces almost none of its own content, almost all of its programming is syndicated, which means that your donations are probably going to APM, NPR, and other content producers. That’s why it only takes a staff of three to run the station. All Classical, on the other hand, is producing a tremendous amount of local arts programming, including one program – The Score – which is nationally syndicated to other markets. They’re one of the few classical stations in the country that is actually increasing the amount of self-produced content that they offer, and really is an essential part of the arts community here in Oregon. Did you actually read the page on their website about the move? They have raised a significant portion of the cost already, and my understanding is that it is separate from the operations costs which are funded by listener contributions via the pledge drives. You’re certainly entitled to give to whomever you deem appropriate, but it’s also important to know what you’re actually paying for, and in your case, you’re paying for a lot of non-local content, which seems to be rather counter productive.

      Reply
      1. curtis heikkinen

        Thanks for your comments Charles. I am well aware of what I am paying for. It may be non-local content but it is high quality for much less. The fact that the station may have already raised most of the costs of the move itself still doesn’t address the fundamental point of my comments regarding the amount of the costs now and in the future and the affect on things like fundraising and the amount of pledge drives. It is going to take a significant amount of money to operate a facility of that nature and size. Those splendid views are certainly not free.

        Reply
        1. Charles Noble Post author

          It takes a significant amount of money to operate the Oregon Symphony, and there is a lot of pressure to cut a lot of corners in how we produce our ‘content’, so I take umbrage at the thought that an institution having a facility worthy of what it produces is not worthwhile. We agree to disagree.

          Reply

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